Narendra Modi’s amazing victory reminded me of my history with RSS (which insiders call Sangh).
I did my 13 years of schooling in a right-wing school which was part of the RSS’s educational branch called Vidya Bharati. As a benefit, I developed immense knowledge and perspective about Indian culture.
When I was in 6th standard in 1986 I started going to a Shakha (which literally means branch) in our neighborhood. Shakha is a unit of cohesion of Sangh in which local volunteers (called Swayamsevaks) meet every evening for one hour. They start with prayer, play games like Kabaddi and Kho-kho, have optional boddhic (knowledge sharing) sessions and end with a prayer. There is no concept of guru, and the saffron flag is considered guru.
A good number of teachers in our school were officers in RSS. Here, officers simply mean volunteers who have been given responsibilities based on their interest and merit. I did find meritocracy in RSS to be far better than even some volunteer-driven spiritual organizations.
In 1989 I went for their first officer course, which was for 15 days if I remember correctly. Interestingly, it was in our school itself during summer holidays. After that, I become head of my neighborhood Shakha.
Within a few months VP Singh became Prime Minister of India and he expanded an affirmative action scheme called reservation in India to include some more communities, mine being one of them. My dad was president of our community for Jaipur at that time. He did not discourage me from my participation in RSS, though there were signs that RSS was drifting toward opposing the new legislation at the time.
India in the late 80’s was very different from what we see today. It was full of unemployed youth who needed very little incitement to break the hell loose. Things went so bad that students were being pushed to self-immolate, some of them, ironically, from privileged classes.
There was a rally of reservation supporters at a big groundswell in Jaipur. The rally was, however, ransacked. Allegedly by RSS volunteers. This was the tipping point for me, and I drifted away from the organization I had liked so much. There were other circumstantial reasons as well, such as the fact that I had little time left to devote due to my needing to focus on my studies.
Both RSS (in terms of minorities) and its political branch BJP (in terms of both minorities and less privileged classes) have become more inclusive since then. I do not blame anyone for the overreaction of these Mandal days. For me, the issue was not who was winning the affirmative action game, but why it was being played in the first place. The reason was, I think, because of the size of the economic pie, which was very small due to the Nehruvian socialist model of development. The Mandal Commission’s recommendations were about government jobs. If there are clashes in society about who should have a better opportunity to get into government jobs, clearly there is something fundamentally wrong with the economic system.
Coming back to the RSS organization model, the way it was run made an everlasting impression on me. If anyone wants to learn how to run a volunteer organization, they should look toward RSS.
In RSS there is a class of volunteers who is called the Pracharaks. The Pracharaks take a vow of celibacy and dedicate their life to the organization. Narendra Modi is a Pracharak.
As it’s said in America, you may win elections from the left or right (depending upon your ideology) but must govern from the center. I am sure Modi will follow the same logic.
There is a lot of exuberance in India for Modi, as it was in the U.S. for Obama back in 2008. I personality like both of them, though I may not necessarily agree with their policies. Obama leans socialistic in a capitalistic America, and Modi leans capitalistic in a historically socialistic India.
I have listened to a few speeches of Modi’s in which he seems to have a balanced approach towards capitalism. As long as Modi focuses on capitalism and growth, keeps cronyism at bay and holds Hindutva at an ideological level, he’ll make a great prime minister, in my opinion.